British PM May, French President Macron to hold bilateral summit amid migrant crisis, Brexit

French President Emmanuel Macron meets gendarmerie and police forces during his visit to the border town of Calais. Macron is expected to discuss with UK Prime Minister Theresa May arrangements over policing the border in Calais, a destination seen as an El Dorado by some migrants from Afghanistan and East Africa. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2018
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British PM May, French President Macron to hold bilateral summit amid migrant crisis, Brexit

LONDON: British and French leaders aim to deepen cooperation in tackling terrorism and the migration crisis at a bilteral summit near London Thursday, as Britain tries to strengthen ties before leaving the EU next year.
Prime Minister Theresa May will meet President Emmanuel Macron — on his first official trip across the Channel — at an army base close to the capital, with an agenda intended to “reflect the broadness of the UK-France relationship,” British officials said.
Either side of the summit, attended by both countries’ Cabinet ministers, the leaders are expected to have a private lunch and attend a reception at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In a piece of diplomatic theater, Macron is expected to confirm that France will agree in principle to loan London the Bayeux Tapestry, the famed 941-year-old embroidery that recounts the 1066 Norman conquest of Britain.
“Today’s summit will underline that we remain committed to defending our people and upholding our values as liberal democracies in the face of any threat, whether at home or abroad,” May said in a statement ahead of the talks.
“Our friendship has always gone far beyond defense and security and the scope of today’s discussions represents its broad and unique nature,” she added.
The leaders will address the sensitive issue of immigration, with Britain’s arrangement with France over policing the border in Calais likely to be scrutinized.
Hundreds of people continue to camp out in the northern French town, hoping to stow away on trucks heading to Britain, a destination seen as an El Dorado by some migrants from Afghanistan and East Africa.
The two countries currently abide by the 15-year-old Treaty of Le Touquet, which permits immigration checks within each other’s borders.
A new treaty will be signed at Thursday’s summit to complement the 2003 deal, according to French officials.
May is set to agree to welcome more young refugees stuck in Calais and increase financial aid, a British government spokesman said.
Media reports Thursday suggest she is willing to offer an extra £45 million to improve border security, but Macron will demand extra funds for Calais.
“We have in the past contributed to security and if there are requests for further help we would look at those,” said a May government spokesman.
“We’ve given clear commitment to child refugees.”
May and Macron are also due to announce enhanced police cooperation to control the border.
The British prime minister is also set to commit to sending Royal Air Force (RAF) helicopters to a key French counter-terrorism operation in Mali.
The deployment of three RAF Chinook helicopters to provide logistic support to French troops tackling jihadis across Africa’s Sahel region is part of broader counter-terrorism and military efforts there by the UN, EU and African Union.
“Recent terrorist attacks across Europe underline the scale of the cross-border challenge we face in keeping our citizens safe,” the UK government spokesman said.
France, in turn, has agreed to commit troops to the British-led NATO battlegroup in Estonia in 2019.
Officials said it would build on the joint deployment of soldiers to the Baltic country whom the two leaders visited together last year.
At the summit, the pair will also discuss their joint crackdown on online extremism “to ensure that the Internet cannot be used as a safe space for terrorists and criminals,” according to the spokesman.
Britain is also expected to allocate £50 million of additional aid for those affected by epidemics, natural disasters and conflict across Mali, Niger, Chad, North Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
The government hopes the cash will help provide 320,000 people with emergency food and provide protection for 255,000 refugees.
Thursday’s gathering at Sandhurst military academy — the 35th UK-France summit — comes as Britain is eager to develop stronger bilateral ties with its continental partners ahead of leaving the EU in March 2019.
The issue of Brexit is not scheduled for formal discussion but will likely be touched upon in talks on other topics, the British official said.
Summits in previous years have focused on defense and security, foreign policy and nuclear energy, but the 2018 agenda was broadened to cover “the full spectrum of the UK-France bilateral relationship including prosperity, innovation, science and education” he added.


Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

Updated 15 December 2018
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Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

  • US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack
  • For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence

BALANGIGA, Philippines: A sleepy central Philippine town erupted in joy on Saturday as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were to be turned over to the community.
Children waving bell-shaped signs and tearful residents in Balangiga gathered to welcome home the three bells that are a deep local source of pride, and which the US flew to Manila this week after decades of urging by the Philippines.
US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies, after razing the town and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack that left 48 of their comrades dead.
For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence, and a dark chapter which is the subject of an annual re-enactment and remembrance event locally.
“It’s not just me but the whole town is walking in the clouds because the bells are finally with us,” 81-year-old Nemesio Duran told AFP.
“We are the happiest people on Earth now,” he added, noting he is descended from the boy who rang one of the bells, long said to have signalled the attack on the Americans.
The bells arrived in Balangiga late Friday ahead of an official handover ceremony set for later Saturday, but the town’s streets were already crowded with people and vendors selling T-shirts saying “Balangiga bells finally home.”
The ceremony will be not far from the town plaza that holds a monument with statues of the American soldiers having breakfast as the Filipino revolutionaries raise their machetes at the start of the onslaught.
Manila has been pushing for the bells’ return since at least the 1990s, with backing from Philippine presidents, its influential Catholic Church and supporters in the United States.
But the repatriation was long held back by some American lawmakers and veterans who viewed the bells, two of which were in the US state of Wyoming and the third at a US base in South Korea, as tributes to fallen soldiers.
A confluence of factors earlier this year, that included a key veterans’ group dropping its opposition, culminated in the bells landing in Manila aboard a US military cargo plane on Tuesday for a solemn handover.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 73, bluntly called on Washington in a 2017 speech: “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours.”
His arrival in power in mid-2016 was marked by moves to split from Manila’s historical ally and former colonial master the United States. At the same time Duterte signalled an end to the standoff with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
Yet for some in Balangiga the bells’ return is also a somber occasion tinged with the pain of the past, which has been passed from generation to generation.
“It’s mixed emotions because the bells also remind me of what happened,” Constancia Elaba, 62, told AFP, adding how she grew up hearing stories of the episode from her father.
“It was painful and you cannot take it away from us. We can never forget that,” she said.